The dominant view that perceptual learning is accompanied by changes in early sensory representations has recently been challenged. Here we tested the idea that perceptual learning can be accounted for by reinforcement learning involving changes in higher decision-making areas. We trained subjects on an orientation discrimination task involving feedback over 4 days, acquiring fMRI data on the first and last day. Behavioral improvements were well explained by a reinforcement learning model in which learning leads to enhanced readout of sensory information, thereby establishing noise-robust representations of decision variables. We find stimulus orientation encoded in early visual and higher cortical regions such as lateral parietal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). However, only activity patterns in the ACC tracked changes in decision variables during learning. These results provide strong evidence for perceptual learning-related changes in higher order areas and suggest that perceptual and reward learning are based on a common neurobiological mechanism.
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